Story and photo by Vickie Miller

This past weekend was the 64th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, or fondly just known as “Sebring”. The racing series participating included the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (WTSC), Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC), Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge (GT3 Cup), Prototype Lites (Lites), and the Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR).  Absent was the Mazda MX-5 Cup series which attended last year’s Sebring race weekend.

On Wednesday evening, I enjoyed a walk around the track with race friends Katie Mech and Abby Goodwin.  The track walk provides drivers an opportunity to get an up-close look at the track surface and discuss strategy at each turn or straight.  I did not get far on the track into turn one before I realized a constantly changing surface and noticed so many cracks and “divots” in the cement slabs.

Over the years, I had heard drivers refer to Sebring as being “bumpy” but I had no idea until I saw for myself the extent of what one driver refers to as, “it feels like you are shaking the fillings loose in your teeth.”

With the occasional surface “patch” scattered throughout the track, it makes for unusual feeling of grip or being loose at any time depending on which “patch” the car hit.

Along our walk, we had the pleasure of talking with drivers Bryan Sellers and Marco Seefried.

Sellers mentioned that due to the surface and the track layout, Sebring is considered a very “technical” track which is why teams from all over the world come to Sebring for testing.  If your car can survive Sebring, it can handle all of other tracks!

This weekend it was not just the bumps and surface the teams had to deal with but the rain, too. Enough rain already!  WTSC fans have “enjoyed” rain at Watkins Glen International, Petit LeMans Road Atlanta, and Circuit of the Americas last year, which was red flagged during the WEC race.  Didn’t it rain for the qualifying at Daytona International Speedway during the Rolex 24 weekend, or is my brain as soggy as my shoes?

Rain or shine, unless you live under a rock, you know I am going to mention my favorite team, Michael Shank Racing (MSR) with the Honda HPD Ligier JS P2 car.  The car unloaded great with all the pieces and parts in the proper place and ready to go.  Unfortunately, this would change.

Driver John Pew had an up-close experience with the wall at the hairpin turn during the Thursday night practice session, which made for a long night and longer morning for the MSR crew to repair the car.  John was thankfully not hurt, but no one is harder on themselves than John Pew. This crew was like Santa’s elves, going about their work, not complaining, and doing what needed to be done to make the looming deadline- which in this case was the next morning’s practice session.

As the sun rose Friday morning, the car headed to the track for the warm-up session.  And warm up the car, the drivers sure did as qualifying brought hope back to the MSR crew.  Olivier Pla scored the pole again at Sebring but this year with MSR.  Last year Pla qualified the Krohn Racing Ligier P2 car getting the pole position.

With Olivier qualifying the car, he also had to start the race, in which he led for the first two hours.  The MSR team survived caution laps, executed precise pit stops, and even the red flag stopping the race for weather.  But when Pla returned to the car for the closing segment, something wasn’t right.  Being the always optimistic fan, with 10 minutes left to go in the race, I headed to Victory Lane only to hear the race announcer mention the #60 car was coming in pit lane and maybe out of fuel.  Oh my, visions of 2012 Circuit Gilles Villeneuve haunted me.

Between races, the #60 car can be found warm, dry, and happy in the MSR shop outside Columbus, Ohio.  Where over the course of several days or weeks, the crew can tear down the car, review any repairs, and methodically prepare for the next race.

Now, do all that in a tent, miles from the shop, and in just hours.  For the #60 car to run 11 hours and 55 minutes, finish 7th due to the suspension breaking, and be only one lap down when the checked flag waved, is the biggest testament to the hard working crew of ANY race team.

If you are new to road racing, plan on attending a WTSC race, and need a team to cheer for, I encourage you to go by the MSR hauler in the paddock and meet this team. Please read more about the team and the Sebring weekend here:

Now the driver interviews! It was tough, but I was able to catch up with busy driver, Corey Lewis, who was pulling double duty in the #16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 in the WTSC GT Daytona (GTD) series and in the # 36 Strategic Wealth Racing Porsche Cayman in CTSC Street Tuner (ST) class.  Corey shared the ride in the #16 car with Spencer Pumpelly and Al Carter.  Corey shared the ride in the #36 car with Matthew Dicken.

Here is part of my conversation with Corey Lewis:

Q: Favorite food?        A. Burgers…any kind.

Q: Favorite band?       A. Justin Bieber

Q: If you could go to one track as a fan, what track and what series would you watch?

  1. Corey would love to be a fan at Sebring 12 hour race and watch the Prototypes. I am sure he can wait until years from now when he is retired because he will be running this race for many more times!
  2. Track on your bucket list to race on?
  3. It was a tie between Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and Nürburgring

Q: If you could spend the afternoon with anyone (politician, entertainer, racer, dead or alive) who would it be and what would you do?

  1. Steve Jobs and he would just sit around, chat, and have a few drinks!

Q: What is one fact you can share with fans that might surprise us?

  1. Ok, hold on for this one! Corey grew up in Pennsylvania on an alpaca (small llama) farm. The alpaca were raised for their wool and Corey won many ribbons at alpaca exhibitions and shows.

Let’s meet Corey Lewis!     

How did Corey Lewis do at Sebring?  In the CTSC #36 car, the team qualified 20th and finished running in the 26th slot.  In the WTSC #16 car, the team qualified 8th and finished 11th running with 11 laps down. But the results don’t indicate how Corey led the race in the Change Racing Lamborghini and was looking strong

Please follow Corey and his teams on social media Twitter and Facebook:

Corey Lewis    @CoreyLewis39           

@ChangeRacingUSA                        @sw_racing                @GoldcrestMS

In 2008, my nephew and I attended Sebring for the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) race.  We were standing on the inside of Turn One watching qualifying when the B-K Motorsports Lola driven by Ben Devlin had an unfortunate meeting with the tires right in front of us.  With only eight minutes into the 25 minute qualifying session, the red flag was waved to end the session.  Devlin walked away from the crash, and later I chatted with him at the autograph session and that chat left an impression on me.  I have been a Devlin fan ever since!

Devlin and I chatted again this year at Sebring, under better circumstances.  He drives the #70 Mazda Motorsports E10 in the Prototype (P) class and shares the car with Tom Long, Joel Miller and a new addition to the car, but not to racing, is Keiko Ihara.  Devlin is in this car for endurance races.

Here is part of my conversation with Ben Devlin:

Q: Favorite food?        A. Chinese, no particular dish, loves it all.

Q: Favorite band?       A. Currently hooked on Mumford & Sons

Q: If you could go to one track as a fan, what track and what series would you watch?

  1. The 24 hour of Le Mans and any class. This answer surprised me for a minute since Ben has raced there.  But just as other drivers I have interviewed who raced Le Mans, they would love to go as a fan.
  2. Track on your bucket list to race on?
  3. Baha race with Robby Gordon. Ben talked about this event for a while with a big grin and sparkle in his eyes.   Ben also enjoys the TT bike races, but just as a fan.

Q: If you could spend the afternoon with anyone (politician, entertainer, racer, dead or alive) who would it be and what would you do?

  1. Ben could not narrow it down to just one…first mentioned was Winston Churchill and then his Grandma. Ben is also intrigued with what I will refer to as “bad people”.  Ben and I spent the most time talking about this subject and it was extremely interesting to me because I totally agree.

Ben sees the terrible shootings in the world and wonders “why?”  He would like to talk to the person and just ask “why would you do this?”  While Ben in no way encourages or agrees with any tragedy, he cannot understand why a person would do such a terrible thing. I mentioned to Ben that I have often wanted to know, what was the problem the person thought that shooting up a movie theater would solve? I guess these people just aren’t thinking at all.  We had a very interesting conversation.

Q: What is one fact you can share with fans that might surprise us?

  1. Ben is always a happy guy. I am a witness to this.  After the 2008 incident at Sebring, Ben was at the autograph session chatting and smiling with fans.  I remember thinking, “how can this guy total a car and be smiling with the fans?” Ben said, “It’s just what you do.”

Nothing could be done about the car so you go on with life, be glad you are alive, and smile. A good lesson for us all. Since Ben is only driving in the endurance races, he can be found spending time with his 4 year old son.  Having a great family and job makes Ben a happy guy.

Here is a video Q&A submitted by fan, Michael Goodwin, “Describe your favorite pass on the track”

How did Ben and Car # 70 do at Sebring?  The car qualified 7th and finished running 8th, one lap down.  This Mazda program is much improved from its debut season and growing stronger with each race.

Please follow Ben and the Mazda team on social media here:

@devlin82                               @MazdaRacing                      @MazdaMovement

Okay, now the part I know you all really read my articles for… recap of the track or “Complaint Corner”!

I will give ½ thumbs up to the women’s showers in the campground area by vendor row. In my article last year, I wrote about how the men were using the women’s showers.  This could only be either apparently Sebring did not realize women attended racing or did not care about showering.  This year, the Tidy Coast Event Services brought a larger trailer with more women’s showers.  The showers were clean the first day I used them.  Enough said.

For as long as I been coming to Sebring, the podium has been a flatbed trailer brought into the area behind pit road and set up in a tight space. Yes, the podium was always in need of a new idea and improvements.  This year, when arriving into the paddock area, I noticed a section of the grass parking lot area was turned into a new podium area.

There was a sturdy metal fence around a platform for what appeared to be ready for the photographers.  The podium stage was framed with tall stone columns and the ground was covered in a black and white checkered board pattern.  My first impression:  pretty and expensive, but not practical.  Once again, a racetrack commissioned a construction design firm to create something in concept, but never seen used before so unaware of the issues to follow.  Allow me to point out the flaws.

The stage area was too small.  In theory, a podium should only need room for three steps, 1st place, 2nd place and 3rd place.  However, with today’s increasing need for sponsors and with their egos bigger than their pocketbooks, the podium must be big enough to hold all the sponsor VIP’s for that important photo with the driver. With the 12-hour Sebring event being an endurance challenge race, the top three finishing teams have multiple drivers, which again requires more room.

The podium worked great for the Porsche GT3 Cup and IMSA Lites support series celebrations.  Where there is a single driver and the sponsor representative (if the team has a sponsor) may not be present at the race. The stage itself was very low.  It was great for the temporary grandstand assembled for the photographers to snap photos but terrible for fans.  I guess the podium celebration is not meant for the fans to enjoy.

When a track is embarking on an expensive improvement, I wish the track board members would attend other race tracks to learn what works and what does not.  In my opinion, a great victory lane area is Watkins Glen International.   The podium is tucked in behind a track building allowing for a great “Brian Cleary” overhead shot.  There are grandstands on either side for fans to come into Victory Lane and be part of the celebration.  Yes, the photographers get the middle section for the straight shot, which is appropriate, and we all enjoy the spraying of champagne!

Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, WeatherTech, etc. just a fan. There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is “just the way I see it”. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @Viclovesracing